Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #46 – Illuminated Qur’an

Illuminated manuscript in general, whether Islamic, Christian or any other religion or groups that used illumination techniques in their works and manuscripts, is a artistic decorating technique that utilizes gold or silver, usually used for special books like a prayer book, a Bible or in this case, a Qur’an.
Gold or silver is usually painted on special pages of the Qur’an such as the opening chapter of the book, The Surah Fatihah, the first 5 ayat (verses) of the first chapter, the Surah Al Baqarah and the last pages of the Qur’an.
As Qur’an is very special to the Muslims as it is their holy book it is befitting that illumination is a preferred decoration for the sacred text. Other manuscripts such as poem books or miniature books are also sometimes decorated in gold or silver, but Illumination is most grand in Qur’an.

AN ILLUMINATED OTTOMAN QUR'AN, COPIED BY AHMED NAILI OF GALATA (D.1813), TURKEY, DATED A.H. 1193/A.D. 1779 Arabic Manuscript on paper, 303 leaves, 15 lines to the page written in neat naskhi script in black ink, ruled in a thick gold border, verses separated by gold rosettes with coloured dots, sura headings in white against gold ground cartouches with coloured floral decoration, illuminated marginal devices comprising flowerheads issuing sprays in colours and gold, tenth verses marked with a gold 'ashr' in the margin, double page frontispiece decorated with enjoined coloured flowers against blue and gold grounds, the text within cloudbands against a punched gold backgound, within a contemporary gilt-stamped morocco binding with marbled-paper doublures and flap. 20 by 13cm. Photography/ Text © Sotheby´s


Mushaf sheets is dated 1211 A. H. (1796 C. E.) Size: 17 x 12.4 cm. The copy was made by Hafiz Mustafa. The book was bought in Damascus in 1896. Location: National Library of the Czech Republic. Photograph © National Library of the Czech Republic.


Photograph ©HAT SAN'ATI Tarihçe, Malzeme ve Örnekler, Istanbul.

Dimensions of Written Surface: Recto: 9.5 (w) x 19 (h) cm Script: Ottoman naskh This fragment contains on the top line the last two verses (ayat) of the last chapter (surah) of the Qur'an, entitled Surat al-Nas (Chapter of Mankind). This particular chapter extols seeking refuge in the Lord from Satan, who, like the spirits (al-jinn), whispers evil things in the hearts of people (116:5-6). The verses at the top of the folio are separated by two ayah markers shaped like gold disks with five blue dots on their peripheries. Immediately below the last verse of the Qur'an appears a prayer in five lines praising God, the Prophet Muhammad, and all Prophets (or messengers, al-mursilin) of Islam. The continuation of this terminal du'a (or formulaic prayer) continues in illuminated bands on the folio's verso (see 1-85-154.74 V and James 1992b: 178-9, cat. no. 43). The prayer is beautifully calligraphed in large Ottoman naskh in alternating gold and blue ink. This prayer is said upon completion of the Qur'an (al-du'a ba'd khatim al-Qur'an), in which God is praised as the all-hearing (al-sami') and the all-knowing (al-'alim). It continues the initial, non-illuminated five-line prayer on the folio's recto (1-85-154.74 R) and serves as an appropriate closing to the Holy Book. In some cases, illuminated terminal prayers in rectangular bands such as this one precede a four-page treatise on how to practice divination (fal) using the letters of the Qur'an (see 1-84.154.42 R). Although only one illuminated folio remains, it originally would have created a double-page illuminated du'a. This layout is typical of Safavid Persian Qur'ans from the second half of the 16th century (see James 1992b: 178-9, cat. no. 43), as well as Ottoman Turkish Qur'ans from the same period. For instance, a similar prayer appears immediately at the end of an Ottoman Turkish Qur'an dated 980/1573, now held in the Keir Collection in London, England (VII.49; Robinson 1976, 294). Due to similarities in script (in which three lines of text in gold alternate with a line in white ink), composition, and illumination, the prayer fragment here probably dates from the second half of the 16th century as well.



Filed under Imagining Islamic Aesthetic

2 responses to “Imagining Islamic Aesthetics #46 – Illuminated Qur’an

  1. What a lovely interesting post. Thank you for the images – these are so beautiful.


    • I agree with you Jacqueline…these are indeed very beautiful works of art. Should you be interested in more of works like this, you can refer to my last article. There is a link that will lead you to a really wonderful collection where these pics are part of it.

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